Is Context Important To A Book?


Hello my BookNerds! I thought that I would take a look at context today. Specifically, whether or not it is important to a book, and whether it was more or less relevant depending on the type of book, i.e Classic or Contemporary. Now, as you may know, since I am a repetitive person (i am sorry 🀣), I studied English Literature and Language as an A-level, and context was inescapable! Yet, I came to see its importance and influence, and learned to love it.

If this has been done before then drop a link in the comments to the original content creators and I will add it to my post! I was influenced by the wonderful R A I N @the_withering (twitter) post Love Letters Zelda To Scott Fitzgerald as it made me think about how much of his writing was influenced by Zelda! So don’t forget to check out her wonderful blog!


What Is Context?

So, I am sure many of you know what Context is but let me outline it for the sake of clarifying my own thoughts. Context can be split into categories; authorial or biographical context, economic or social context, and publication or procedural context.

Authorial/biographical context is anything to do with the author personally. Such a their education, work, family, relationships, political views or social status. This, can also extend to any biases that may be present in their work, especially if it is non-fiction, but more on that later.

Economic/social context is anything to do with the wider economy or societal structure of the time period in which the author lived or set their work. For example, it can include the prominence of the government and their laws, or relate to how the social classes were/are divided and treated. Moreover, it could reflect beliefs concerning gender and gender roles, the status of children, or laws and views regarding sexuality.

Finally, publication/procedural context is anything to do with how the author wrote and published their work, how the readers perceived it (and if it is a classic, how that differs from the views of modern readers), and official or general critiques of the work. Moreover, this may also relate to research the author conducted in order to write the novel.

Now that I have organised my thoughts, lets jump in to whether context is important.

Is Context Important?

As a former English student my first instinct is to scream YES. It is so so so important. But the logical side of me argues that it is dependant upon the genre and the reader.

In General Fiction, Non-Fiction, and Historical Fiction, i think Context is extremely important. This is not to say that every time you pick up a book in one of these categories you need to research everything and anything about the time period and the author, but it does mean that there is likely a significant influence from them. Though, most people’s general historical or societal knowledge is enough to understand the setting or implications of a novel, there is still a lot that can go deeper. For example, Dickens work, particularly Great Expectations and David Copperfield, are heavily reliant on context. Dickens had personal experience in Workhouses, law, and journalism, all of which is greatly explored through his works. His social criticisms are reflective of his experience in the working class and middle-class lifestyle, his scenes of law and justice reminiscent of the punishments of his own father, and his own courthouse experience, and his work itself is lengthy, wordy, because his work was serialised. Though you can understand his work without the in-depth knowledge of his life and his time period, having the knowledge opens a door to a deeper level of understanding with the author himself.

The same is true for Truman Capote’s work In Cold Blood. The context is important here, particularly because it is Non-Fiction, and so the facts of the true crime are relevant to the book. However, it goes deeper than this, the characters are portrayed very significantly based on Capote’s personal relationship with them. For example, it was rumoured he had been in a relationship with, or at least been infatuated with, Perry (one of the criminals) thus, his portrayal is more sympathetic, pathos inducing, than Dick, his partner in the crimes. Similarly, Capote was criticised for his accuracy since he did not take notes while he and Harper Lee, spoke to the townspeople, instead he relied on his memory (which he believed he had trained to be over 90% accurate) and wrote up anything significant later on. Again, you can see how the context calls a lot of elements of the book into question, and yet it is still a significant and interesting read without it, but there is so much more too it.

This is also something we see in more modern texts. For example, in some novels I have read recently there is influence from the authors personal life in terms of diversity or social influence. Many characters who are diverse in ethnicity, race, sexuality or disability are largely written by authors who are part of a minority (though not always the one they write about), though this is not exclusive, it is more prominent. (I have seen diversity in T.A.D – M.D Neu, The Unspoken Name-A K Larkwood, The Choice-Claire Wade, and Eternal Shadow- Trevor Williams.) Moreover, a few of the aforementioned books are also influenced by modern society, another contextual point, such as our scientific development and tendencies, or the increasing surveillance and control of government institutions.

Historical Fiction is a genre in which context is the most obvious. For example, in The Things We Cannot Say, by Kelly Rimmer context is intrinsically important because it is based on actual history. While you do not need to be a history buff to understand the context as Nazi occupation is now general historical knowledge that almost everyone knows something about since it caused such tragedy and devastation. Yet, this book explores a part that is not as well know since it is set in Poland and has both a focus on the oppression of people who were Jewish but also on the oppression of the Catholics, thus the context makes the book more hard-hitting and eye opening.

Context can also influence characters and their relationships. For example, Scott F Fitzgerald was inspired by his wife Zelda for a large amount of his writing, which is evident in The Great Gatsby, The Ice Palace, and The Beautiful and The Damned. All three of these stories are modelled after Scott Fitzgerald’s relationship with Zelda the wives are often written with her in mind, and the conflict or love between the wife and husband are reminiscent of his own relationship. As a reader, when you see Zelda as his muse it is easy to draw parallels between the characters and her, as a result you can connect with the author and the characters on a different level and have more insight into their behaviour.


However, in novels that are in the fantasy genre, context may be less relevant. Usually this is because everything is fiction, and sometimes societal context may be irrelevant. However, I can still see a lot of contextual influences in fantasy novels, ranging from diversity, to the societal systems, to how racism and stereotyping is explored. Fictional worlds are often modelled after our own in terms of creating a power structure of beliefs, it is just more subtle and the context is not needed in the same way as other genres in order to understand the text, though this is usually because the context is one we can inherently understand or relate to.


Finally, I think Context can be very significant in terms of political and personal views as well as character portrayals. By this I mean, stereotyping and racism. An older book, such as a classic, or a contemporary book set in an older time period, is likely to contain harsh views on minority characters and poor, stereotypical descriptions of them. While classic books are problematic in terms of this, and if you enjoy classics you can at least acknowledge the problematic portrayals, it is the context that makes readers see why the views and portrayal’s are as they are – though it does not excuse them. On the other hand, while including racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia etc… in modern novels set in older time periods is something that is expected, as it allows the author to show the themes of oppression, it is something that could be overcome in the story or dealt with delicately. For example, if you have a character who is against minorities, many authors make it clear the characters views are negative, poor and problematic. Moreover, the description of minorities is now less problematic. (While there are still some issues regarding the characters description if they are a minority in some modern books most try to avoid this.) This is largely due to our context of today’s society, we are more progressive now, though we still have a long way to go, so we can avoid harmful stereotypical descriptions in books, even in those that deal with the theme of racism, homophobia, ableism etc..


Overall, I think context can be very helpful in terms of having a wider or more in-depth understanding or the books themes, characters and portrayals, and can allow the reader to connect more deeply with the work. However, I do not think it is an absolute necessity in order to enjoy the book itself, but personally I love to know a little context.


Many of you may agree or disagree with me, and that is fine since not everyone will feel the same way as it is a subjective view. However, let me know what you think! Do you agree? Do you disagree? Do you like/hate context? Comment below! Happy Reading BookNerds πŸ˜ŠπŸ’–πŸ“š

8 comments

  1. I TOTALLY agree, KB! I mean…I recently read Rough Music by Patrick Gale but didn’t pay much attention to the first page where we were told all about the author’s life. But having read the story, I had this strong urge to know more about the author and I found that the events that happened to the little boy in the beginning and how those experiences shaped him were similar to what the author himself went through during his childhood! THAT SURE MADE ME WONDER!

    But I also feel that sometimes too much context ruins the overall magic and mystery of the story, you know. But then, that’s just my personal opinion and as you said, not everyone will agree!

    SERIOUSLY THOUGH! A very thought provoking post!! I LOVED IT! β€οΈβ€οΈβ€οΈπŸ‘»πŸ‘» AND THANK YOU SOOOO MUCH FOR LIKING TO MY POST! β€οΈβ€οΈβ€οΈπŸ˜˜πŸ˜˜πŸ˜˜πŸ’•πŸ’•πŸ‘»πŸ‘»πŸ‘»β˜”οΈ

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sometimes I read books without knowing the context first too – but then end up looking at what influenced the book afterwards!

      It makes sense to feel it takes away from the book a little! Especially if it is fantasy etc I think – it is great to see your opinion!

      Thank you !!- and you’re welcome!! it was my inspiration so it is the least I could do!! πŸ’–πŸ’•πŸ˜ŠπŸ˜πŸ’–πŸ’•πŸ˜ŠπŸ˜πŸ’–

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I definitely think context is important. Especially in historical, general and non-fiction. I don’t often look up the context behind stories though πŸ˜› I really like it when authors include a preface with background info or in their acknowledgements stating the influence for their writing πŸ˜€ Jen

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s nice to see your view! I like that too, especially since you may not want to look it up beforehand in case you get spoilers! I do like it when they include their influences it really adds to the story! πŸ˜ŠπŸ’–

      Liked by 1 person

  3. […] πŸ–€Β KB is THE SWEEEETEST SOUL and I am SOO glad I got the chance to meet her here and be her friend! She is so supportive and her posts are always fun. Two of my favorites are her review of The lost Ones by Anita Frank and her discussion titled – Is Context Important to a Book? […]

    Liked by 1 person

  4. WOW! I didn’t think of context in all of those different ways. However I do think its important. It bugs me when readers complain about a classic book with views that don’t mesh with modern thinking. Rudyard Kipling comes to mind. If you investigate his life some it totally changes how you view some of his works. (Kim is one of my most re-read books ever.) I’m not sure I agree about fantasy though. I find context matters a ton. Everything the author is and thinks goes into forming that world. A great discussion!! Really makes you think. ❀️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you – It is definitely such a key element to classic books since they were written at such a different time! That’s fair- I do see a lot of influence in fantasy from authors personal lives, particularly in terms of diversity or setting- so it makes sense that it is just as important in other genres/categories- you are right there- I agree with your point . Thank you so much! I am glad you enjoyed it-thank you for taking the time to read it and leave such a great comment! πŸ’–

      Like

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